It is every parent’s nightmare. Paul and Tammy Hebert woke up that Wednesday morning last September to the discovery that their three-year-old son, Kienan, was missing from his bed. Sparwood, British Columbia, where the Heberts live, is a District Municipality taking in almost 172 square kilometres. Its population is small, only about 4,000 people, mostly blue-collar. Most of the population is connected in some way to the coal industry, which is Sparwood’s claim to fame. Sparwood is also home to Sparwood Fellowship Baptist Church where Paul and Tammy are members.
On the following Sunday morning after Kienan disappeared, after a massive search, after an Amber Alert that reached into Alberta and across the border into the United States, and after an emotional appeal by the Heberts to the kidnapper to return their son, Kienan appeared, unharmed, snuggled into an old chair in his own home. How he had been taken, and returned, without being seen is still a mystery to this day. The accused kidnapper was subsequently arrested.
THRIVE interviewed Paul and Tammy about their experience. Here’s what they said:
THRIVE: It's every parent’s nightmare to discover that their child has been abducted. What was your first reaction when you found Kienan missing on the Wednesday morning?
HEBERTS: Disbelief. Shock. Very surreal. After all, who does that? Overwhelmed by all the community support. It was unbelievable. Even now it’s still overwhelming.
THRIVE: Kienan was gone for four days. The Amber Alert extended from BC into Alberta and as far as the United States. When you made the appeal on Saturday for the kidnapper to return your son unharmed, how sure were you that he was still alive?
HEBERTS: Positive he was alive, positive we would get him back; we just were unsure how long it would take.
THRIVE: What was it that kept you going, believing, over those terrible four days?
HEBERTS: Faith, there was no other option. There was absolutely nothing we could do but have faith that God was with them.
THRIVE: Was there a particular Scripture or impression from God that brought you peace and hope in the middle of all of this?
HEBERTS: Yes, Matthew 19:26, Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" And Luke 7:1-10, the faith of the Centurion.
THRIVE: How did Kienan's disappearance affect your other children?
HEBERTS: While Kienan was missing, their reaction was directly connected to our reaction. We had to be strong for them. If we were okay, they were okay. If we were upset, they were upset. It was a no brainer what we had to do.
THRIVE: One of the amazing things that was reported after Kienan came home was the lack of any kind of emotional scarring or trauma that was evident. It seemed like nothing had happened. Now, months later, has there been any sort of post-traumatic stress that has surfaced in him, yourselves or other members of the family and, if there has been how is God helping you to deal with that?
HEBERTS: Looking back now, Kienan was a little more reserved than he usually was with other people (when he was first returned,) but it sure did not take long for him to settle back into his normal self and routine. If anything, our six-year-old (Calub) was most affected by Kienan's abduction and return. He was angry and wanted to beat up the bad guy constantly. That also has passed and now it is not even a topic, or even a thought, in our house unless someone brings it up. There is a particular YouTube video that everyone just loves in our house, set to the song "Wake me up when September ends" by Billie Joe Armstrong. Thank you to whoever made it.
THRIVE: It was reported that your church family in Sparwood was terrifically supportive during your ordeal. Could you explain for our readers what that support involved?
HEBERTS: We are not exactly sure what part anyone really played, as we were extremely busy in mind. But with that said, our church family consists of many churches. The Mormons, who are not of the same faith, were also part of the big help. Our Pastor (Ron Rutley) spent time in prayer with us, opened his home and yard for our children to run freely. Pastor Ross Powell, with the Pentecostal church, also spent many hours in prayer, and just to be around for support. Pastor Shawn Barden of the Fernie Baptist Church was also there in prayer and spent many hours on a search and rescue team. The churches throughout the whole country prayed and wrote and supported. The love in this valley was so thick that everyone put their differences aside to help each other out to find our son. The local Causeway Bay Hotel supplied all the food for my family and close friends who had come down. The managers of the hotel stayed with us throughout the day to make sure all had eaten and were well fed. The Mormon Church opened its doors to feed all the volunteers and made sleeping arrangements for the people and coffee 24 hours a day. God bless them all.
THRIVE: The Police and the Media all remarked that Kienan's safe return was probably the most unusual and unexpected event. Most, of course, don't attribute his coming home safe and sound to a miracle of God's Grace. Some would rather talk about conspiracy theories or payoffs and ignore the "God Factor." How do you respond to those skeptics?
HEBERTS: In our actions we believe that sometimes it's best to say nothing at all, but to the believers who still also question the same situation, all they need to do is look up Acts 5:17-24.
THRIVE: Before Kienan's disappearance you used to leave your doors unlocked in case someone needed a place to stay. It has been reported that you now lock your doors at night. Has trust become mistrust? How are you dealing with having to change how you think about people?
HEBERTS: We seldom locked our doors because we have nothing of value. If anyone was to break into our home because they needed it, well, they could have it. It was not our worry whether stuff was safe or not, it’s only stuff. Who would have ever thought that someone would need a child from his bed? We never thought that someone would come while we were sleeping and take our child, not even in our worst of dreams. We still trust people, and we will continue to trust people, but we will also have a saying, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and shame on me" and our mommas didn’t raise any fools!
THRIVE: Forgiving the man who is accused of kidnapping Kienan could not have been an easy thing to do. If you could speak to him today, what would you say?
HEBERTS: Forgiving is easy once you understand that it’s what you must do to move on. The only other option is hate. Hate leads to anger and that makes you the victim. It doesn’t mean he is not to be held accountable for his actions; he still needs to be held responsible for what he has done. It simply means we can move on and let the Lord handle the rest. I would thank the kidnapper for bringing Kienan home safely and not harming him. I'd also thank him for taking care of Kienan while he had him, making sure he was fed and hydrated, and clean, which Kienan was.
In Psalm 139, David makes a list of the possible places a person might go to get away from God and then concludes by saying: “…even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (139:10, NIV). Wherever Kienan was, whatever the events of those four days were, and whatever was going on in the mind of the person who took him from his bed, we know that God was there, too, no doubt with angels all around. And that makes the impossible more than possible.